How to Prepare for 1 Year Abroad
The most common reason that people spend a year living in a different country is for education. Young people often spend semesters or full academic years abroad, and young adults may even do internships or other work placements. These experiences can be financially costly, but immeasurably enriching for anyone who gets to participate. Exciting as it is, spending such a long time away from home and in a foreign environment can also be very daunting. How do you prepare for such important life changes? What do you need to do before and after you get there? How do you pack for a whole year in another country? Follow this guide to ensure that you are ready to go and have a great time.
Travelling to another country will require having the appropriate legal documentation. It can take some time to get this in order, and often requires application fees, so it is important to sort such paperwork out in advance. You will definitely need a passport for identification. Your passport must be in date, usually for the 6 months prior to your departure and with 6 months after your return date. An expired passport will cause too many problems, not least preventing you from travelling. Depending on the purpose and length of your stay, you may also need to apply for a Visa in order to legally study or work in your destination country. You should also arrange insurance cover for yourself and your belongings.
One of the most important considerations when planning a year abroad is your personal finances. If you are taking part in a study abroad programme, you will have to pay tuition fees. The cost of education could be much higher or lower than in your home country. You may be able to get help with fees through additional student funding, whether this is a loan, grant, or scholarship. If you are unable to get financial aid, you will have to cover the costs of studying and living yourself. In any case, you should save up in advance and research average living costs there to create a budget. Set up a local bank account and debit card to avoid international fees and notify your home bank that you will be abroad.
Your housing will be one of your primary financial concerns while living abroad. You will usually be able to apply for student housing through your programme if you are studying abroad. This often requires applying as early as possible to secure a place. Otherwise, you will have to arrange private accommodation for yourself for the duration of your stay. Renting a private apartment or sharing with housemates can be much more expensive than living in student halls, but the quality of the facilities may differ. It can be more difficult to socialise if you live off-campus, but you may be able to find affordable accommodation in an area that you would prefer to live in. Just ensure that it is within travel distance.
If your destination is on the same continent, you could drive or take the train to get there. If these aren’t viable options, you should book your flight at least 3 months in advance of your planned departure date. Make sure that you are able to get from the airport to wherever you will be staying. This could require booking an airport transfer or figuring out the public transport system before you go. If you will be using public transport to travel around during your stay, it would save you money to look into local schemes such as railcards. You might find that you have breaks in your studying or working, so take advantage of these and explore neighbouring cities or countries that are easier to get to from there.
It is far too easy to pack too much stuff, resulting in cumbersome luggage and space taken up by things you didn’t actually need to bring. You might think that you need to take a lot with you to last a year, but remember that you are likely to buy and use products when you are there. All that you definitely need to take with you is clothing, shoes, your tech devices, travel toiletries, and any (minimal) accessories you’ll want to wear. Don’t forget portable chargers and power adapters for your electronics if the country has different plugs. When it comes to things to wear, research the local customs and weather and consider what your lifestyle will be like to assemble an appropriate capsule wardrobe.
Your health is of the utmost importance. Things like jetlag, stress, and homesickness can really affect your health if you travel abroad for a long time. If you take regular prescription medication or wear prescription contact lenses or glasses, make sure that you have enough to last your trip or that you can fill out the prescription while you are abroad. A health insurance policy may cover the cost of this, so check beforehand. Get a checkup from your doctor before you go and ensure that you receive any recommended or compulsory vaccinations. While you are living abroad, make sure to eat properly and exercise regularly as you would at home. This could be a great opportunity to try new foods and drinks.
Even countries which share similar languages can be drastically different in most aspects of daily life. This can come as a surprise if you do not research and mentally prepare yourself for what living there is like. It is normal to miss your familiar home where you feel safe, but experiencing other ways of life will help you to learn more about the world and grow as a person. Learning about the traditions, history, culture, and laws will help you to socialise in your new country and avoid getting into trouble. This includes keeping yourself safe and not offending nationals by accident. The more you know and are willing to adapt, the more comfortable you will feel in your new environment, until it feels like home.
Travelling somewhere by yourself for any period of time can feel isolating. Establish your support network beforehand and keep the contact details available so that you can get in touch with your institution, family, or government services whenever you need to. It can be easier and cheaper to talk to family back home via online messaging or Skype video calls. However, you will still need a phone for local calls and texts. International roaming will rack up a huge bill, so get yourself set up with a local pay-as-you-go phone plan when you get there. You will also need a new SIM card to get a local number. Keep important contact details written down in a notebook so that you have a physical copy to refer to.
Studying & Working
Whichever your primary reason for moving there temporarily, you normally have to register your arrival with a local authority. Ensure that you follow all of the necessary administrative processes within the first few weeks. This includes enrolling at university if you are studying there. The academic culture and structure may be different, so research in advance to familiarise yourself with the academic system. Make sure that you understand the requirements of your programme and how it contributes to your final degree. You may need to work as well as study to supplement living expenses. You probably need a Visa to get a job, and it should not affect your studies. Leave time for socialising, too.
Living Like a Local
If you are going to be staying in another country for a length of time, you don’t want to act like a tourist. The locals will like you and help you more if you at least try to follow their practices. Blending in will also make you less of a target if there are pickpockets or other criminals around who prey on tourists. Basically, educate yourself about the area you are going to and respect the cultural norms while you are a guest there. Dress appropriately, do not put valuables on show, and follow the social rules for things like eating and behaviour on public transport. If the locals speak a different language there, try to learn some basic phrases in their language to help you navigate and make a good impression.